Among the traditions forged by the Festival of the Bluegrass has been an annual visit by Lonesome River Band.
Newer acts have been added to the festival, especially in recent years. But patrons have been able to count on the longstanding LRB — still with four-time International Bluegrass Music Association Banjo Player of the Year Sammy Shelor at the helm — being part the lineup for more than two decades.
They could, that is, until this year. But fear not, Lonesome River Band fans. Shelor and company will be in Lexington this week. Their pal BoB is seeing to that.
"It has ended up for us that every two or three years we do this festival for the California Bluegrass Association," Shelor said. "This year, everything happened to fall on the same weekend. We didn't realize that included Lexington."
So LRB will be doing a sold-out show in Carlsbad, Calif., at the Museum of Making Music just as the Festival of the Bluegrass gets underway this weekend at the Kentucky Horse Park. But before heading west, the group will help kick off the second annual Best of Bluegrass celebration Monday at Natasha's with a free performance that also includes the popular new-generation string music troupe Town Mountain.
"This California festival is a great opportunity for the band," said Festival of the Bluegrass producer and organizer Roy Cornett. "At the same time, I knew there was going to be a large segment of my audience that was going to be disappointed. But I'm also on the programming committee for BoB, so the first act that came to mind for that was Lonesome River Band. Getting them here kind of solves the problem. They can do the BoB show earlier in the week, and people from the festival can still get their LRB fix."
Shelor said, "We're very glad we're still coming up there because we love the Lexington crowds. They're real energetic and just lots of fun to play to. So we're hoping to get some of that Festival of the Bluegrass crowd there on a Monday night."
Local bluegrass fans are likely versed in LRB's music thanks to 30 years of albums that culminated with the three-volume Chronology. Each edition offered new recordings of tunes cut by the band throughout its history but performed by the current LBR lineup: Shelor, guitarist Brandon Rickman, fiddler Mike Hartgrove, bassist Barry Reed and mandolinist and Strunk native Randy Jones.
Shelor said the band also completed a new album two weeks ago for release in the fall. He said the results might surprise a few fans.
"Some of it is more old timey-leaning," he said. "But then we added percussion to it. We had this incredible percussion player, Tony Creasman, come in. He's a studio musician I've known for 20-some odd years. He knows how to play our music and not get in the way, but he still manages to make it bigger sounding. So we're just trying a few little different twists."
The song list includes four co-written by Rickman — including one with Lee Roy of The Roys, which plays a BoB show Tuesday at Willie's Locally Known — covers of Merle Haggard's Shelly's Winter Love, which the band based on a vintage arrangement by the Osborne Brothers, and Earl Scruggs' Cumberland Gap.
"We tried a few different things to see if it piques people's interest," Shelor said. "But it's still a Lonesome River Band record. Any time we do a record, we're going to sound like us."